Mississippi State

Poplarville's Houston, second-ranked Mississippi State cruise past Alabama

VASHA HUNT/ASSOCIATED PRESS Mississippi State pitcher Zac Houston (41) pitches in the first inning against Alabama in the SEC baseball tournament in Hoover, Ala.
VASHA HUNT/ASSOCIATED PRESS Mississippi State pitcher Zac Houston (41) pitches in the first inning against Alabama in the SEC baseball tournament in Hoover, Ala. AP

HOOVER, Ala. -- Second-ranked Mississippi State fans didn't know what to expect from pitcher Zac Houston in their SEC Tournament opener on Wednesday at the Hoover Met.

The junior hurler from Poplarville started four games in his 16 appearances this season with only one game thrown over 3.0 innings.

Houston limited Alabama to just four hits en-route to a 4-1 victory. MSU (41-14-1) will play either LSU or Florida at 8 p.m. Thursday. MSU ace Dakota Hudson will start for the Bulldogs.

"I felt great and the crowd was going nuts," Houston said. "It really got me going. Early in the game I was just trying to shove the fastball in there. I feel like it doesn't matter where (the other team) puts it in play, we have a chance to make a play."

Gavin Collins had four hits, including a solo home run also played a big role for the Bulldogs. Collins finished with two RBI.

In MSU's 12-hit performance the Bulldogs got two hits from Jake Mangum and John Holland. Mangum is now hitting a SEC-leading .429.

The Bulldogs came out hitting in the first after Houston's perfect opening frame. Jake Mangum and Jack Kruger singled up the middle to get base runners but Nathaniel Lowe hit into a double play to erase Kruger. With Mangum at third and two down, Gavin Collins made sure he wasn't wasted with an RBI single for the 1-0 advantage.

The Bulldogs pushed their lead to 2-0 in the third and 3-0 after four off Collins' 10th homer. Brent Rooker's RBI single made it 4-0.

Alabama took a final punch late in the game during the sixth. With two outs, the Crimson Tide doubled on consecutive at bats. Chandler Taylor was inches from hitting a two-run home run. But they could get no closer.

Blake Smith finished the game with a save for MSU.

Houston pitched a career-high 8.2 innings, striking out five batters and walking no one. He retired 21 of the last 24 batters he faced including 13 straight into the ninth.

"We just let him ride," Cohen said of Houston. "I couldn't be more proud of Houston."

Alabama (33-25) got 5.2 innings from ace pitcher Geoffrey Bramblett but he was touched for nine hits and four runs while striking out four batters. Taylor provided the game's lone run for the Crimson Tide.

"We had seen Bramblett before and I feel like we had a great game plan," Collins said. "We had three great batters before me allowing me to sit in the dugout and see some pitches. It made it easy."

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